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Asian Shares Mixed Amid Muted Investor Optimism

asian mixed 24may21 lt

Asian stocks ended narrowly mixed on Monday as investors awaited several central bank rate decisions in the region as well as key U.S. inflation readings for guidance on monetary policy.

Despite most Fed officials dismissing higher prices as transitory, investors remain concerned that a high inflation reading could revive talks of an early tapering of the Fed's bond buying program. Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said Friday the Fed might have to discuss the matter sooner than later.

Chinese shares ended a choppy session higher as brokerage stocks received a boost from signs of ample liquidity and low interest rates. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose 10.73 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,497.28 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dipped 0.2 percent to 28,412.26.

Japanese shares posted modest gains as the country opened mass vaccination centers just two months before hosting the Olympics. The Nikkei 225 Index inched up 46.78 points, or 0.2 percent, to 28,364.61, while the broader Topix closed 0.4 percent higher at 1,913.04.

Traders remained somewhat concerned as the government prepares to extend a "state of emergency" to curb coronavirus infections in some areas beyond the initial ending date of May 31.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group fell 2.2 percent, while Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing ended marginally higher. Automakers Honda and Toyota ended up more than 1 percent each.

Australian markets ended slightly higher, led by energy stocks. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index swung between gains and losses before ending up 15.60 points, or 0.2 percent, at 7,045.90. The broader All Ordinaries index edged up 10.70 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,276.

Higher crude prices lifted energy companies, with Woodside Petroleum, Oil Search and Santos rising 1-2 percent. Miners BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto lost 2-4 percent, tracking weak iron ore prices after China warned commodity firms on prices.

The big four banks rose between 0.6 percent and 1.3 percent, while wealth manager AMP lost 3.6 percent and investment bank Macquarie Group declined 1.4 percent. Buy-now-pay-later firm Zip Co. gained 0.9 percent after unveiling expansion plans.

Seoul stocks edged lower for the third straight day on concerns about early post-pandemic inflation. The benchmark Kospi dropped 12.12 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,144.30.

Chipmaker SK Hynix fell 2.5 percent and pharmaceutical giant Celltrion gave up 2.4 percent ,while banks gained ground ahead of the Bank of Korea's rate decision due Thursday.

New Zealand shares ended on a flat note ahead of Wednesday's RBNZ rate decision.

Dairy producer Synlait Milk dropped 1.6 percent after it forecast an annual loss due to COVID-19 disruption to its key "daigou" supply channel to China.

The total volume of retail sales in New Zealand climbed a seasonally adjusted 2.5 percent sequentially in the first quarter of 2021, Statistics New Zealand said in a report. That followed the upwardly revised 2.6 percent contraction in the three months prior (originally -2.7 percent).

U.S. stocks ended mixed on Friday as inflation concerns and talk of tapering kept investors on edge. Traders also digested data showing that U.S. home sales fell for a third straight month in April.

The S&P 500 ended little changed with a negative bias and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed half a percent, while the Dow rose 0.4 percent.

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